When Herodotus uses the first person plural in phrases like "We know," "We say," and so on, the modern reader naturally takes this either to refer to his ethnic group (Greeks) or to be something like the scholarly first person plural: an appeal to consensus among a group of qualied experts. Neither is the case. Only once does Herodotus' "we" refer to the Greeks as a group; in virtually every other instance it must be interpreted as plural for singular. It refers, that is, to Herodotus himself, and himself alone. Most importantly, it refers to him in his activity as inquirer, arbiter and composer of stories. History, as Herodotus presents it, has a plural voice. We can understand this, first, in relation to the poetic plural in lyric and epic. In epic, the plural voice is that of the audience, spectator and (in some sense) arbiter to a contest of powerful individuals. In lyric, a poet uses the plural in order to speak with the authority of the whole chorus, which is itself a kind of involved audience to the events it represents. A second way to understand the historian’’s plural voice to is see how characters within Herodotus’’ text use, or attempt to use, the same pluralising rhetoric. In one instance, a competitive individual tries and fails to assume the plural voice; in another, the voice belongs to a genuinely plural —— and strangely anonymous —— group of bystanders. Again, the plural voice is that of the interpreting, assessing audience, rather than that of the competing individual.
- ©© Regents of the University of California